Each year, thousands of Canadians fall victim to identity theft. According to PhoneBusters, in 2002 there were more than 7,600 cases of identity theft reported, totalling more than $8.5 million in losses. That’s 7,600 people who had their credit identities used by someone else. Talk about aggravation!
Stealing personal info
How can someone steal your identity? By co-opting your name, social insurance number, credit card number or some other piece of personal information, which they can then use to commit fraud or theft. Once you become aware of what’s going on, you have to prove it wasn’t you. You may have to fill out affidavits to establish your innocence for banks, credit companies and any recipients of stolen cheques.
It’s remarkably easy for people to find the information they need to take on your identity. Thieves look through your trash at home or work, retrieving discarded bills, mail or credit applications. They rifle through your mailbox. They call you, pretending to work for a bank, government or credit reporting agency, and ask for personal information. They steal your credit card numbers from receipts and your driver’s licence number from the back of cheques. With this info, they forge new documents to impersonate you.
What they do with the info
Once they have your personal info, they open up a new credit card account, use the card and don’t pay the bills. The delinquent account is noted on your credit report. Thieves have even called credit card issuers and, pretending to be the victim, changed the mailing address on accounts. With the bills sent to a new address, the victim doesn’t immediately realize there’s a problem.
Follow these steps to prevent someone from stealing your identity:
- Don’t keep your SIN card or passport in your wallet or purse. Store them in a safe deposit box at the bank.
- Shred or destroy papers that have your personal information on them including promotional offers for new cards that you receive in the mail.
- Don’t give out your credit card number by phone unless you’re sure you know the identity of the caller.
- Pay attention to your billing cycle. If credit card or utility bills don’t arrive, contact the companies to ensure that they haven’t been illicitly redirected.
- Check your credit report at least once a year to ensure it’s accurate and doesn’t include debts you know nothing about (see It wasn’t me for details on how to do this).
- Change account passwords a few times a year. Don’t use family names or birthdates. Pick something obscure.
You don’t have to be paranoid about someone stealing your credit identity. You just need to be careful so you’re not an easy target. Taking some simple steps will help to minimize your chances of falling prey to this ever-growing problem.
It wasn’t me
If someone steals your identity:
- Report the crime to the police immediately and get the police report. Call all your creditors and tell them what’s going on.
- Check your credit profile with a credit reporting agency (Equifax, 1-877-323-2598 or 514-493-2598 and TransUnion, 1-800-663-9980). Ask them to contact you before granting new credit.
- Record the names of the people you contact for future reference.
- Cancel all credit cards and close bank accounts. Open new ones.
- Advise your utilities that someone using your name could try to open new accounts fraudulently.
- Suspect that your mail is being diverted? Contact Canada Post.
- If you think your SIN has been compromised, contact Human Resources Development Canada at 1-800-206-7218 or e-mail email@example.com.
- Re-check your credit profile to be sure all changes have been made.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s latest book is Dead Cat Bounce: The Skinny on e-Vesting (Prentice Hall). She can be reached at www.gvomoney.com.